Thursday, July 16, 2009

Uddhavji

On Thursday, I decided that I should do something on my own. I had received a call earlier from a friend and teacher of mine, named Uddhav Chaitanya, whom I call Uddhavji. He said he was staying in Bangalore until Monday, at which time he would be moving to Dallas, Texas. So I called him back saying that I’d love to meet him, and he told me his address. He said to get on a bus to White Field. One of my newfound friends took me to the place where a bus goes from Girinagar, which is Aksharam’s address, to “Market,” which is a central location where all the buses go and come back to. I, however, did not know this. Nor did I have any idea what “Market” looked like or felt like. From Market, he said, I could take a bus to White Field. But frankly, I was scared of taking a bus, because a) I had never taken a bus in India before (let alone by myself) and b) I do not know the language Cannada, which is what everyone speaks. So instead I asked my friend to grab an auto rickshaw for me so that I could just take a rickshaw from Girinagar to Mahadevapuram. He called over a rickshaw driver, told him where I had to go, and then sent me off. I found, luckily, that this rickshaw driver knew Hindi. I also learned that most of the educated people in Bangalore area speak Hindi. Even the uneducated individuals speak bits and pieces. If this wasn’t the case, I would be utterly lost. We reached the market and I was completely shocked.

Take the crowd at your nearest Six Flags, or amusement park, multiply it by about 100, insert Indian traffic, put it all in a huge junkyard for buses, and that was the market that this auto driver dropped me off in. The market literally looked like a junkyard, filled with buses (at least 30 – 40 of them at once) with a through road that all the buses take when leaving for their routes. It is located under a flyover, so there are lots and lots of homeless people that live there. (There are homeless people everywhere – don’t get me wrong – but this was a particularly huge concentration of them.) What I didn’t know at the time was that this was only half of the market. The other half was on the other side of a fence, which was the traffic going in the other direction. I later found out that it is exactly like this side, but going the other way. And this whole bus junction was surrounded by a market.

I was directed by the auto driver to the center of the junction where he said I should ask for a bus to White Field. What he didn’t tell me was that there was no system by which I could actually find out which bus to get on, I would just have to ask anyone and everyone. So when I got there, for the first minute or so I was totally lost because I was surrounded by massive buses and 1000 people who looked like they knew exactly what they were doing. I found out soon after that they did not in fact know what they were doing; they simply looked like they knew what they were doing. Nobody I asked knew what bus to get on to go to White Field, but everyone gave me an answer. Of course, there were the rare people who told me they didn’t know, but for the most part, people would just point in a direction. A couple of people even told me bus numbers, but every answer that I got was different. Each bus has a number written on it, so if you know the number of the bus you need to get on, you can ask around. But if you only know where you have to go, you take a huge risk when you get on any bus. In India, everyone will give you an answer in an attempt to help, but you have to ask about 8 or 9 people before knowing where to go. How? By seeing which answer you got the most. You also must judge the confidence with which each person answers you. In this case, however, I got every answer only once. And I asked about 20 people. And nobody was confident.

I could not for the life of me find the bus going to White Field in this mass chaos, so I called Uddhavji to ask him what bus to get on. He said he didn’t know, but that I should get onto a bus going to “Tin Factory.” So I asked around, and I found a bus going to Tin Factory. I don’t know how. When I got on the bus, I asked a few people if the bus was going to Tin Factory, and luckily, there were two boys in the back of the bus who said they were going to Tin Factory as well. I felt relieved and sat down in front of them. While we were waiting for the bus to leave from the market, another man came and sat down next to me. I was on the window seat, and he was on the aisle seat. The two boys going to Tin Factory were sitting a couple of rows behind us. Before we even started moving, however, I glimpsed the two boys getting off the bus! I checked behind me and sure enough, they were not in their seats. I did the “excuse me, excuse me” thing and jumped past the man sitting next to me in pursuit of the two boys (because they were going to Tin Factory, so if I followed them, I would eventually get there too). When I got off the bus, I could not find the boys anywhere. They vanished into thin air it seemed. I ran around aimlessly for about 10 seconds, then realized that if the bus I was on was actually going to Tin Factory, I should get back on it. So I got back on the bus, found a seat (somehow there were still seats available), and sat down. The bus started moving. I asked the man next to me if the bus was going to Tin Factory, and he said it was. We hit the first stop, and I realized that I would never know which stop Tin Factory was, because the bus seemed to randomly stop in the middle of the road, open its doors, (which were sometimes just left open between stops too) wait for a few seconds, and go. Everyone who had to get off and get on did so in that time. And those who didn’t make it on the bus during the few seconds that the bus stopped would run alongside the bus and then jump-climb on when they got the chance. Now I was afraid I would miss the stop because I had no idea which stop was which! You just have to know where your stop is if you want to get off. The other problem was that the bus filled up after the first couple of stops to the point where the seats were full, the standing capacity was overflowed, and there were people hanging outside the bus. So I asked the man next to me if he would tell me when Tin Factory came. He said he would. Unfortunately, within five minutes of my asking him, he fell asleep. How would he tell me if he was asleep? So I asked another boy who was standing next to my seat. He told me he would let me know when Tin Factory came. On a whim I trusted him, and relaxed.

When I relaxed, I saw a whole new dimension of operations and methods amidst the chaos that is the bus system in Bangalore. There are two conductors on each bus; one is the driver, and one is in charge of the tickets (for convenience, I will just refer to the ticket conductor as the conductor, and the driver conductor as the driver). The conductor has a whistle that allows him to communicate with the driver even if he’s not near the driver, and even if there is so much noise on the bus that you can’t hear yourself think. Each stop, the conductor blows the whistle to let the driver know that he should stop (sometimes people want to get off the bus even when it’s not a real stop, so if the conductor blows the whistle, the driver knows to stop), and the driver stops. The conductor leans out the door or gets off the bus for a few seconds to watch people get on and off the bus, and also calls out to the public where this bus is going. Once everyone for that stop is on or off the bus, the conductor blows the whistle again and gets back on the bus. The second whistle is to indicate to the driver that he can start driving again. So in this way, the bus system is really efficient. Once the bus starts moving again, the conductor makes his way through the bus (somehow) and collects money for tickets. He remembers who was on the bus last time, and who got on the bus this time because he stands outside the bus watching the people get on and off the bus. So he knows who is new. He then dispenses the tickets, and the system restarts. All of this happens in a matter of seconds.

Eventually, my stop came, and I got off the bus at Tin Factory. I called Uddhavji, and he said that I should take an auto from there to his place. So I did. It took a total of about two and a half hours to get to his place, through traffic and using public transportation, but I made it. The stay with Uddhavji was very pleasant (worth it), and the trip back to Aksharam was just as tough as the trip to his place. But I find that there is no replacement for good company. It is the company one keeps that helps one form his or her values, habits, attitude, etc. Thus one should choose his or her company wisely. When I made it back to Aksharam I was so tired and so relieved that I went straight to bed.

1 comment:

Skittles said...

What an adventure. It's difficult to imagine it all at the scale at which you are experiencing it, but you paint a fascinating picture of the busses and crowds. Your flexibility and courage here are admirable and served you well. I'm so glad :0)

I find the conductors fascinating, don't you? On my smaller adventures, the conductors there would also somehow remember who was already on the bus and who was knew, and I personally find it rather impressive. It sounds like there, once you are on the bus, it is a very efficient system, especially with the whistles. Good plan.

And I love your point about company. Quite so, my friend. And it sounds like you have been surrounded by really excellent company to help you on your adventures. ^u^ How wonderful. Looking forward to reading your other posts! (So many at once!)

Enjoy Everything,
Skittles